My Life at a Glance
I, Mariakutty V.T. (Valayathil Thomas) was born on March 5, 1947 in a respectable, God-fearing, middle class family in my mother’s home in Elikulam parish, Kottayam district, Kerala. I am the second of five children of Annamma and Kochettan (Peter Thomas) Valayathil. My siblings are Pennamma, Achamma, Kuttiachan and Lizy. All of them are married and are now grandparents. My father was the only son with three sisters and we lived with our grandparents. He got all three of my aunts married. We had a united family and all shared the house chores. We were a devout Catholic family with an hour of evening and morning prayer daily and special novenas set aside for certain months. We had special devotion to Mother Mary. We children were encouraged to attend the holy Mass on First Fridays, Saturdays and during holidays and to make weekly confessions. I was attached to my grandfather. He was my first teacher who taught me to write in sand the fifty-six letters of the Malayalam alphabet before going to school. My father was very strict with all of us and I resented it somewhat whereas my mother was very loving, caring and kind. As I look at my personality now I am a combination of both my parents which is a blessing in my life.
I come from a farming family. We had sufficient cultivable land and domestic animals as a source of income. Besides cash crops my father also grew various vegetables and other edible items for our use. My father was a good manager and was able to keep us well even during the occasional hard times of crises. My grandfather and parents were sick very often and their treatment was a financial drain for our family. After a long illness my mother passed away at the age of thirty-five on January 29, 1963. I was fourteen years of age at the time and I missed her very much.
We belong to the Holy Cross parish, Kappadu in Kanjirappally diocese. I studied up to class five in a school owned by the Adoration Sisters. Those Sisters helped me to become a devout Christian and to lead a wholesome life. I began to think about becoming a religious Sister around that time. From class six, I studied at Achamma Memorial High School in Kalaketty which was owned and managed by the parish. We had both Sisters and lay people as teachers. They were very committed and taught us to be disciplined children. I was an average student but worked hard. My siblings studied up to class ten after which they took care of the family for a few years before they settled in life. Many of my values such as a spirit of dedication, generosity, obedience and respect for elders, being sensitive to other people’s needs, etc. were imbibed from my family, school and the Church.
From my primary school I had a passionate love for Mother Mary which instilled in me a desire to give myself totally to God. As a teenager I had also thought about married life. After passing SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) with good marks I wanted to join the Samaritan Sisters in Kerala. My father objected to my joining them saying that religious life would be very hard. He advised me to study further and I completed my Malayalam Vidwan (literature) in Kanjirapilly. In my readings I came across some of the advertisements for vocation promotion in Christian newspapers and magazines. I was attracted to join the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth because of its name, ‘Sisters of Charity’. When I expressed my desire to join them my father again discouraged me from going to Bihar for he thought that Bihar was quite uncivilized. I felt sad and refused to eat or drink. When my grandmother intervened on my behalf he finally offered to send me with one of my aunts to meet the Sisters who had come to Kerala. I met SCNs Josephine Naduvilekunnel and Ann George Mukalel who were very happy, simple and wore habits which my aunt and I liked very much. Out of the 100 girls who came for the interview, only twenty-four were selected and I was one of the lucky ones. Again my father objected to my going to Bihar. He said that if I wanted to be a Sister, join the Adoration Sisters in Kerala so that he could visit me often. Again I went on a hunger strike to press my point. This forced my father to change his mind. He accompanied me to the Ernakulam railway station on June 21, 1968. We were sixteen girls to travel to Mokama with the Sisters and we reached our destination on June 24, 1968.
We were twenty-seven candidates in Mokama. The day we arrived, we were served fish curry with hot rice which was a surprise for me. I also did not expect to see our large convent building. Anne Marie Thayilchirayil, SCN taught us English and I learnt many things from the junior Sisters present there. Initially I found it very hard to speak in English and Hindi. Coping with extreme hot and cold weather, new culture, different food, etc. were also difficult for me. We had Sisters Teresita Theruvankunnel and Josephine as our directors, one after the other. After a year of language studies, all of us did our inter-mediate studies at Ram Ratan College, Mokama for a year. I failed in Logic and I was sent to Nirmala College to repeat the two-year inter-mediate studies. Twelve of us stayed in the college hostel. The medium of teaching was in Hindi but we were allowed to write our exams in English. Life in the hostel was difficult; Sister Ann Bernadette Ormond, superior of the convent invited us for lunch occasionally.
Six of us, Thresiamma (Suma Muthukattuparampil), Philomena Joseph (Sabina Mattappallil), Philomena Kurien, Philomena Sebastian and I entered postulancy in August 1972. Sister Patricia Mary Kelley was our postulant director. Besides the daily instruction class by the director, we had classes in English and music by Sisters Rita Puthenkalam and Xavier Valiaparambil respectively. Philomena Kurien and Philomena Sebastian left the Congregation as postulants. In June 1973, I became a novice along with Mary Mathew (Sujata) and Mary Thomas, a transfer member from a congregation in Kerala. After three months, Suma and Sabina joined us in the novitiate. We had Sister Patricia Mary as director in the canonical year and Sister Shalini D’Souza was in-charge of us in the second year. Both the Sisters were good teachers and we enjoyed their classes. Reverend Father Martinsek, SJ taught us Theology and Sister Margaret Rodericks, Psychology. I enjoyed my novitiate days especially the six-month training period to become good teachers during the second year.
After my First Vows on September 27, 1975 I was assigned to Nazareth Academy, Gaya as a class teacher of class one. I was happy to be with the wisdom figures like Sisters Eugenia Muething, James Leo Goldsborough, Anne Marie and Mary Chackalackal. I learnt how to be a good teacher from Sister Mary Chackalackal who was in-charge of the primary section. Though I was afraid to work in a big English medium school, Sister Mary helped me to overcome my fear as she shared with me her own initial struggles in Gaya. Towards the end of that year I became confident as an efficient teacher.
In June 1976, I was missioned in Sokho to teach at Pushpa Vidyalaya, a primary school managed by the parish. Sister Ann Muthukattil, SCN was the headmistress. We had only a few students in the beginning and all of them were first generation learners. Small children sat on the floor as we did not have sufficient desks and benches. Josephine Kisku, SCN is one of my old students from Sokho. I enjoyed my community life with Sisters Lucia Thuluvanickel, Ann Muthukattil, Celine Vadacherry and Joyce Kalapurayil and Sumita Edattu who discontinued later. The parish priest, Reverend Father Dan Rice, SJ was very good to us. We had our regular weekly ministry meeting with Father Dan and on Mondays the community had an hour of adoration during which we openly shared our joys and struggles in ministry and community life.
We lived in a simple mud-house just like the houses of the Santhals, the local Tribe. We had outdoor bathrooms and toilets without running water. The place was infested with poisonous snakes, both inside and outside the house including the bathrooms. With no electricity we used kerosene lanterns for our needs. One night when I went to sleep I found a krait (poisonous snake) under my pillow. It was such a frightening experience for me that for years I continued to look under my pillow before going to bed. Whenever we found a snake anywhere, we asked our neighbour to get rid of it.
While in Sokho, we dealt with a corrupt postman who kept for himself the people’s money which had come by postal order. Since the people had requested us to help them in this matter, Sister Lucia and I went on a strike at the post office in Garhi village from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm. We told the postman, “Unless you give the money to the persons concerned we will not leave this office.” By 6.00 pm, it was getting dark and the man knew that we would not budge. Finally, he handed over the money to us to be distributed among the people.
After much discernment, Father Dan felt strongly that he needed to change his style of functioning from a social worker to a spiritual animator. In the process, he decided to inculturate himself by becoming like an Indian sanyasi (monk) wearing a saffron robe with no sandals. He closed down the primary school, the dispensary and the social work centre. The young Sisters in ministry felt helpless. Sister Ann asked for a renewal program and left the place. Father Rice requested me to continue to teach the children under a tree in Kerwateri village. When I shared this with Sister Ann Roberta Powers, SCN, she felt that I should follow Father Dan’s orders. The six months I taught there was very tough for me. I had to go through a jungle and cross a river all by myself. It was a one-teacher school under the open the sky. Father Rice took pride in saying to the villagers, “Who says the school is closed, I brought the school to your village.”
Frustrated, three of us young Sisters went quietly to Baramasia village which was a four-hour walk from our house. By the time we finished visiting the families, it was too late to return home. We decided to spend the night in a nearby convent in Mariampahadi. The priest in-charge, Reverend Thomas Vettikkatt invited us for supper with him. The next morning, he brought us half way to Sokho in his vehicle. Sister Lucia was very upset with us as she did not know where we had spent the whole night. After our explanation of the adventure, Sister Lucia was satisfied.
In 1977 the formal school was re-opened and I was back to the classroom again. Two of our small hostel children became sick all of a sudden and we had no medicine to give them. I earnestly prayed that God would heal them. Both got well and began to attend classes. This experience increased my faith in God’s providence.
Teresa Rose Nabholz, SCN was the director of the Temporary professed Sisters. During the summer program she arranged many courses for our personal growth. She was a good listener and I could share with her my personal difficulties in community and in mission. On July 12, 1980 I went to Ranchi for the four-month Final Vows preparation. We were eleven from various groups. After making my Final Vows on December 1, 1980 I went back to Ranchi for my BA (Bachelor of Arts) studies at Nirmala College. I stayed in the local community in Ranchi.
In July 1983, I went to Nazareth Daan in Barauni, our newly-opened mission. SCNs were asked to take over the administration of the existing school, St. Joseph Middle School, run by the catechist and a few lay teachers. Sister Rita was the principal and Malini Manjoly joined us as a second year novice. Initially the teachers rebelled against us and opposed our taking charge of the school. They took away most of our students and started a new school of their own close to our place. They had spread many rumours that the parish school would be turned into a hospital. Initially we faced many obstacles and difficulties in running the school. Eventually most of those children returned to our school and we also had many new admissions. On Sundays we attended two out-station Masses. Once a week we had prayer meetings with various families who were employees of Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation. Around Barauni we did not have many local Catholics but we visited the families of our students in the railway colonies and in the villages around us.
In 1985, I did my B. Ed. (Bachelor of Education) from Loreto College, Calcutta. It was a unique experience for me to study with the students from English medium school background. We had excellent teachers and I enjoyed my studies there. My next appointment was to teach at St. Augustine’s School, an English Medium school run by the Christian Brothers in Vasai, Maharashtra. It was a challenge for me to work in an all-boys high school though it was only for a year.
With eight years of teaching experience in various schools, I was prepared enough to be the headmistress of St. Joseph School, Barauni in 1987. I was also the coordinator of the community. With the appointment of a few trained teachers from Jharkhand who worked very hard to bring up the standard of the school, the enrolment went up to 350. I enjoyed working with those teachers and was able to help many of our young Sisters who came to Barauni for experience. We had good contacts with the parents, teachers and our neighbours. However, the manager of the school was not very cooperative with us in the school activities. When I was away he dismissed one of the lady teachers which the other teachers resented. The matter was reported to the bishop of Muzaffarpur who sent a person for enquiry. Though the final report was in my favour I asked for a transfer and was assigned to Pushpa Vidyalaya, Biharsharif, a parish school for a year in 1992. I taught in the school and managed the girls’ hostel. I was delighted to be a full-time teacher and during my free time I assisted the hostel girls in their studies. SCNs Jean Kulangara and Pushpa Paruvananical were my community members. We helped out in the parish activities by going to different villages for Mass.
In 1993, I was appointed as the headmistress of Kristh Jyoti Vidyalaya, Hilsa, a parish-owned school. The manager and the teachers were so cooperative that I could carry out my responsibilities successfully. With new admissions we had over ninety students in each class. Sister Elizabeth Nadackal, SCN (deceased) was my community member for two years. She was such a dedicated and committed teacher that she was an inspiration for me in many ways. Jayanti Lakra, SCN replaced Sister Elizabeth. We had long work hours but never felt tired because of the mutual support we received from one another.
A sad event that comes back to my mind often is how Pankaj Kumar, one of the kindergarten boys was seriously injured by a teacher. The said teacher was staying in the boys’ hostel and the manager had dismissed him. In retaliation he attacked Pankaj by throwing him down on the cement floor which caused serious injury to his head and he threw him out of the campus wall later. Though Pankaj was found missing from the hostel, they could not trace him. The women who were out in the paddy field found Pankaj almost dead and reported it to the priest. The teacher who attacked Pankaj had left the place that same morning. The priest informed the police about it and the boy was taken to Patna for medical treatment. Though Pankaj stayed in the hospital for three months he could not recover fully and he also lost his memory partially. This incident pained and shocked all of us.
As preparation for my Silver Jubilee, I attended a renewal program with some of the senior SCNs at the Benedictine Ashram in Bangalore in 1996. We were eleven in the group. We enjoyed the fun time at Virndhawan and visited the gorgeous Mysore Palace also.
In 1997 I was asked to go back to Biharsharif School to be the headmistress. Over the three years I spent there I had the opportunity to live with and come to know closely SCNs Rosemarie Lakra, Deena Vazhaprampil, Prisca Tirkey, and Clementia Xalxo. One day in 1999, around 5.00 pm we found that our domestic helper was missing. We searched for her till 10.00 pm and finally found her luggage near the store room. Around 1.00 am we saw her climbing over the wall and getting in to the hostel. As we opened the house the next morning we found her at the door. When I asked her where she had spent the night, silence was her reply. Later we came to know from the people that she had spent the night with a boy from Pahardi Tola, a nearby village. The very next day, she was sent back home to Hazaribagh.
When I reached Biharsharif the second time, the number of students in the school had already decreased and it kept on going down. Many parents wanted their children to study in an English medium school and such schools were mushrooming in the town. In 1998, the province did an evaluation of the school and it was decided that we would move out of the school by 2000. Biharsharif mission was very close to my heart and it took me a long time to accept the community’s decision to pull out from there. The local people felt very bad that we were leaving the place. The congregation of the Queen of the Apostles agreed to take over the running of the school. Two of them stayed with us for a few days to get used to the place and the people. With a heavy heart on December 21, 2000, we moved out of Biharsharif. I could not understand God’s ways and with pain I questioned God and the community.
I expressed my desire to have a short break of two months to pray, reflect and to be healed of what had happened in my life. Instead I got two weeks and I took that opportunity to visit some of the missions which I had not seen. I visited Kathmandu and Dharan in Nepal and Mandair in Bihar. And in January 2001, I was appointed headmistress of St. Xavier’s Middle School, Mokama, a parish-owned school. Stella Kaiparampatt, SCN was my assistant and Maria Sadan hostel warden. I was familiar with the teachers and it was easy for me to work with them. Reverend Father Mathew Uzhuthal, the parish priest was a mission-oriented person who cooperated with me in every aspect. In 2004 during the summer holidays I had a three-week renewal program in Almora, a hill station. We were eight in the group and Josita Eniakattu, SCN was our guide. Malini Manjoly, SCN, who was already in Almora, took good care of us. How we enjoyed the summer fruits and various types of food provided for us!
After returning to Mokama, I had some health problems and had to undergo surgery. It took several months for me to recover fully. At this time, one of our teachers, Bengali Master became sick and was admitted to Nazareth Hospital. His death after a few days was a shock for all of us. It was a prelude to more such incidents in our lives. A miscreant attacked Father Mathew in his office around 6.00 pm on April 30, 2005. Immediately he was taken to Nazareth Hospital, Mokama and after a week he was shifted to Kurji Holy Family Hospital in Patna. He underwent surgery but within a few weeks he expired on May 1. Mokama parish had no priests for two months and it had a deserted look. Then Reverend Father Michael Ignatius was appointed as the parish priest and he was good to us.
In spite of our close relationship and good guidance one day, a few seventh class hostel boys broke in to the office and took question papers, notebooks, cash, sweets, etc. We were able to catch hold of the culprits with the help of the hostel girls. Those boys were suspended from the hostel and school for two weeks but they were allowed to write their final exam.
Being part of the SCNs of Nazareth Convent, Mokama was a pleasant experience for me. Walking was still a problem for me and yet I taught the whole day and did all that was required of me in the school office. We also participated in all the parish activities especially in getting ready for the shrine feast each year.
In 2008 I was asked to discern about going to Surkhet but because of my knee problem I had to say no to it. I was asked to become the headmistress of the newly-begun English Medium School in Chatra for a year. Anice Vattukulam, SCN, principal of the Hindi Medium High School supported me fully. We had a good community and I enjoyed being with the Sisters there.
In May 2009, I was part of the three-month global exchange program at Nazareth, KY. SCNs Stella Chulliyil, Sujata Maliakal and I travelled via Rome to Nazareth. It was my maiden trip by a plane. Being in Rome I felt like, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Eating Italian food, hearing various languages and seeing people from all over the world was a pleasant surprise. We attended the holy Mass of Pope Benedict XVI and visited many holy places. Being in Rome for a week was a spiritual experience for me. Close to thirty SCNs were at the Louisville airport to receive us. It was a thrilling experience for me to reach the Mother House on a moon-lit night accompanied by SCNs Julie Driscoll and Brenda Gonzales. They had prepared an Indian meal for us.
We visited the Log Cabin at St. Thomas Farm and we were fortunate to visit sixteen states in the US and meet many of our Sisters who welcomed us warmly. I enjoyed my visit very much and felt privileged to walk on the holy grounds at Nazareth and other important SCN historical places. For a week, we were placed two-by-two in different houses. I was overwhelmed by the hard work of our Sisters; no matter how old they were, all had a mission to accomplish. Looking back over my visit to Nazareth I was impressed by the hospitality and the loving care of our Sisters. We also visited Pittsburgh and we had a retreat there with Adeline Fehribach, SCN. In Chicago, we were blessed to attend a ten-day scripture course. My entire experience of Nazareth and other places were very inspiring for me.
In September 2009, I joined the Jamtara community. I was the coordinator of the community and did everything that was needed in the house. I helped the hostel girls with their studies and visited nearby families. We had good contacts with the parishioners, other religious groups, neighbours and some people in the town. Our parish church is four kilometres away in Bewa village. When people are sick I take communion for them with the permission of the Bishop of Dumka Diocese. I invite people to pray in our small chapel which is open to anyone. I go to families to pray with the sick. I also helped to form a prayer group in our area. I am also part of the charismatic retreat organizing committee in our parish. Every year one of our prayer team members sponsors the retreat.
When I went to Jamtara, our main ministry was administration and teaching in Maria Niketan Vidyalaya, Bewa, a parish-run school and a hostel for girls. There were 130 girls in the hostel and over 400 children in the school. Gradually the number of girls in the hostel decreased and also the school enrolment went down. By 2017, the school had only 130 children and the hostel had sixteen girls. The province studied the situation and informed the Bishop that we would like to withdraw from continuing our ministry in Jamtara in 2018. However, some of the teachers who had to complete their teacher training requested us to keep the school open until they finish their training. Therefore we decided to stay on till March 31, 2019. At present the hostel has six girls and the total enrolment in the school is 105.
The process of moving out has already begun after the thirty-nine years of our service in Jamtara. I believe that God is calling me to a deeper faith and trust in Divine Providence to move on totally free to serve again. SCNs Rashmi Toppo, Veronica Soren and I have planned programs to say goodbye to our students, teachers, parishioners, neighbours, nearby religious groups and prominent persons of the diocese. Together ‘we leave our boats behind on familiar shores and set our hearts upon the deep to follow YOU, again.’
Life has taught me to trust in Divine Providence totally and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to live my life fully. I have learnt to be inter-dependent in community and to let go of my personal choices for the sake of the common good in mission. I am so very happy and grateful for all that I have received from the SCN community for my spiritual, emotional and professional growth. Living in various communities with older members has enriched my life. I am also proud of our freedom with responsibility, accountability, participative decision-making and simple life style. I feel privileged to be a member of an international Congregation with its rich heritage. I am happy to have had the opportunity to serve the marginalised and the downtrodden of our society. I thank my God, family, SCN Congregation and all the persons who have walked with me on the road of life. I hope and pray for more vocations from multicultural backgrounds in order to keep alive our original charism in the modern context. I also would like to see more of pastoral orientation in our ministries.
Religious life is a gift from God which invites us to personal growth and holiness. If we are open to God’s loving promises, our life will be joyful. Prayer and ministry must go hand-in-hand in order for us to make our lives fruitful. I shall always sing of God’s faithfulness and goodness to me!
Amala Valayathil, SCN
Completed Feb 23, 2019
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